Gloria Bell, 2019.
Directed by Sebastián Lelio.
Starring Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Michael Cera and Alanna Ubach.
A free-spirited woman in her 50s seeks out love at L.A. dance clubs.
English-language remakes of hit foreign films rarely go over well, and usually for good reason, but it’s a different case altogether when the original filmmaker opts to handle the Hollywood treatment themselves.
Indeed, Gloria Bell is a rarest of cover versions willed into existence by the very same creative force behind its forebear, with Chilean director Sebastián Lelio taking it upon himself to adapt his 2013 drama Gloria for subtitle-averse audiences. While there’s sure to be plenty of hand-wringing over this remake’s dubious necessity, Julianne Moore’s performance is so quietly, subtly striking that the feeling of redundancy melts away rather quickly.
Gloria (Moore) is a middle-aged divorcée who spends her nights cruising L.A. nightclubs, dancing with a full heart and occasionally entertaining the advances of men. After hitting it off with the similarly divorced Arnold (John Turturro), the pair embark on a sweet yet uneasy relationship, constantly interrupted by Arnold’s slavish devotion to his overbearing, demanding daughters.
At their core, both original and remake are films about loneliness, and one of this version’s major strengths over its predecessor is its new American setting. Given Los Angeles’ rep for swallowing up lonely souls in its vapid maelstrom, it’s an appropriate and decidedly more evocative setting for English-language audiences, shifted from the original’s setting in Chile’s capital, Santiago.
But just as Paulina García achieved so brilliantly in the first film, Moore does a remarkable job of keeping Gloria ambiguous in sly ways. There is certainly the whiff of sad desperation about her on occasion, yet neither Moore nor Lelio seems particularly interested in making Gloria a sad sack cartoon. Rather, many moments that might lead to overwrought sobbing in lesser dramas pay off with more measured introspection and even a forthright, empowered rejection on her part.
Lelio also isn’t afraid to breed audience empathy through a profound feeling of second-hand embarrassment, as best exemplified through a brilliantly cringe-worthy dinner scene in which Gloria introduces Arnold to her family, including her children (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius), her boozy ex-husband (Brad Garrett) and his new wife (Jeanne Tripplehorn). Don’t be surprised if you find yourself watching through splayed fingers.
Yet Moore serves as a perfect tonal ballast to prevent the film from ever delving too far into sitcom farce or self-conscious miserablism; there’s not a note of artifice here, with the Oscar-winning vet perfectly capturing both the anguish and the uninhibited freedom of middle-age. She makes Gloria a puzzle of a character who can’t easily be pigeonholed into a single archetype, which is enormously refreshing in a Hollywood still struggling to give women in their late-fifties the time of day.
She’s also aided by strong support from Turturro, bringing his usual understated charm to the table, while infused with a skittish nervousness which sells his character’s frustrating lack of reliability. His scenes opposite Moore are generally the film’s best, be they endearingly awkward getting-to-know-yous, or intensely intimate sexual liaisons.
This being a Lelio film, it’s also typically quite ravishing, with DP Natasha Braier being no stranger to making neon sing – having previously lensed Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon – and doing another bang-up job here.
Lelio’s regular composer Matthew Herbert meanwhile provides a slightly jarring yet pleasantly pulsing electronic score, even if the film’s aural highlight is unquestionably its infectious jukebox of classic pop licks. In other films such obvious use of licensed music might feel corny or even cynical, but watching Gloria sing along to pop songs in her car only further underlines the character’s heart-on-sleeve mindset.
While one can’t call this remake necessary in any measure, the absurdly appealing focal cast members and smartly-deployed American setting make for an extremely seductive pairing. Seeing Moore dance to Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” is a shameless, crowd-pleasing delight that even hardened cineastes, fed up of Hollywood co-opting foreign classics, will struggle to dismiss.
A rare English-language re-do that doesn’t sanitise its inspiration, Gloria Bell uncovers potent humanity through quiet observational drama and adds yet another stonking performance to Julianne Moore’s enviable filmography.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.